A new study recently published in Scientific Reports has added weight to idea that intestinal bacteria not only plays a huge role in our health, but also in our longevity—and may hold the key to a number of age-related disorders. This bacterium is proving to have an increased effect on how well we age, and taking ‘gut health’ into account may serve to tack on additional years.

The study was performed using fruit flies, which were fed a mixture of probiotics and Triphala, an herbal supplement used in traditional Indian medicine—together, this combination served not only to increase the lifespan of the fruit flies by 60%, but also protect them against age-related disease. Flies that were given the symbiotic lived as long as 66 days, with a reduction in things like insulin resistance, inflammation, and oxidative stress, in comparison to an average lifespan of 40 days for flies who did not receive the supplement.

Senior author Satya Prakash, McGill’s Faculty of Medicine’s professor of biomedical engineering, said, “Probiotics dramatically change the architecture of the gut microbiota, not only in its composition but also in respect to how the foods that we eat are metabolized. This allows a single probiotic formulation to simultaneously act on several biochemical signaling pathways to elicit broad beneficial physiological effects, and explains why the single formulation we present in this paper has such a dramatic effect on so many different markers”.

The human to fruit fly comparison is apt, as fruit fly studies are a very good marker of similar effects in humans. They share 70% similarity in biological pathways.

With a wide range of positive measures noted as a result of this formulation, Prakash and the study’s other authors are hopeful that similar treatments may be effective in taming illnesses in humans. While further trials are needed, diseases such as diabetes, obesity, neurodegeneration, chronic inflammation, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, and cancer could all potentially benefit from the information gained in this study.

Triphala, which is the herbal supplement used, is made up of ‘medicinal’ plants used in Ayurveda, a type of Indian medicine. Senior author Susan Westfall said, “At the onset of this study, we were hopeful that combining Triphala with probiotics would be at least a little better than their individual components in terms of physiological benefit, but we did not imagine how successful this formulation would be.”

The combination of physical and neurophysical effects shown by this study are extremely interesting, and could provide a useful key, not only to longevity, but to decreasing common diseases associated with old age.

While Triphala is an easy to find supplement, don’t run to incorporate it just yet. Speak to your doctor about the pros and cons of adding it to your diet. Excessive use of the supplement may cause irritation to the bowels or even colon damage. Probiotics are generally safe but should also not be taken without the direction of your physician.